During last fall’s Ebola crisis, millions of users visited the NIH web site looking for reliable and current information about the disease. When the crisis began, most of the public health information offered by the federal government was on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s web site.
To keep the public informed, NIH pulled Ebola content directly from CDC’s site. NIH could do this because CDC makes some of its content available to other sites through a process called content syndication.
“This is just one example of the benefits of content syndication,” said Christen Geiler, a digital information specialist working with the OD Office of Communications and Public Liaison’s Online Information Branch. “It’s an easy and reliable way to distribute information. During the outbreak, it helped disseminate current and consistent messages about Ebola.”
Whenever CDC updated its content, the NIH information automatically updated as well. There wasn’t any conflicting information about the disease, she noted, because both agencies used the same information.
Syndication allows NIH’s science-based resources to be combined with information at state and local levels and helps coordinate health messaging for maximum impact.
“It’s important for us to start thinking about our content beyond the confines of our own web sites,” said Scott Prince, chief of the Online Information Branch. “By offering structured content, we can expand our reach exponentially. Content syndication is a great example of this.”
Those using syndicated content have access to information vetted by experts that they otherwise wouldn’t have, Geiler explained. Also, because syndicated content is updated automatically, it requires no maintenance. Staff can devote their time to other priorities, saving time and money.
“Syndication allows our science-based resources to be combined with information at state and local levels and it helps coordinate health messaging for maximum impact,” she said.
Geiler added that content syndication remains unbranded to a particular agency, so it fits in seamlessly on NIH’s site. NIH was able to customize its Ebola content so that it matched the design of NIH’s other web pages. The site also included links to recent press releases about Ebola.
“Offering your content through syndication is simple,” said Geiler. “More than half of the institutes and centers now offer or are planning to offer their web content for syndication.”
Content that can be syndicated includes health information, images, videos, podcasts and data sets. ICs can provide their content on an online “Department of Health and Human Services Syndication Storefront,” a marketplace listing all content available for syndication. NIH content would then appear on the storefront, along with content from HHS, the Food and Drug Administration and CDC.
Once it’s on the storefront, other federal agencies, state and local governments, members of the public and businesses can download the content and post it on their own sites. The Office of Extramural Research will soon be offering grant funding information on the storefront.
“This will be helpful, for example, for a university that employs researchers who rely on grant funding,” Geiler explained. “The university can place information about NIH grants directly onto its web site and have it update automatically when there is a change,” she said.
Currently, Geiler is working with many ICs to place more content on the storefront. For more information, contact her at Syndication@nih.gov.